This was written for the prompt,“When did you first understand the meaning of love?” It was an essay contest that I didn’t win (Real Simple) and I had to agree with the judges on their pick for the winner…it’s beatuiful. here
We’ve all heard the saying and probably found ourselves, at one time or another, stuck between a rock and a hard place. This was how I felt about my situation even though the reality was that I was stuck between two great guys. No, this is not a story of sexual fantasies, but of being surrounded by love, or at least potential love.
I was new to San Francisco. It was my dream-city except that I had just left Paris and was not entirely thrilled about the move. I left behind my French boyfriend (consistent with my love of all things foreign) of 4+ years and dreams of living in Europe indefinitely. Living in Paris is dreamy, but it was a stressful situation. I was 30 years old and had graduated the year prior with my MBA from London. My boyfriend and I had officially “moved in together” while I searched…and searched for a job. While my student loan funds dwindled, the 1-year grace period for pay-back was quickly ticking by. It was challenging. My mantra had become “relationships are hard” but still, our informal union held strong during this tumultuous time. One thing that bound us was our spiritual path into Buddhism, which we had gone down together. Coupled with a romantic view that “love conquers all,” we practiced cultivating calm and happiness despite life’s challenges.
Finally, I had to accept that I wasn’t going to launch my career in foreign territory. I visited San Francisco, my favorite US city, and miraculously landed a dream position in fashion retail. While gathering my possessions in Paris, the question hung in the air… “Are you coming?” His answer: A loving “désolé” (sorry) – he had too much at stake in Paris to leave. I put into practice all the Buddhist theory and enjoyed my final week in Paris, despite the impending end of our relationship. I frequented my favorite cafes and perused my favorite neighborhoods, drinking in the charm and beauty that Paris so generously pours. Feeling torn apart by circumstance, Giles and I also savored each other.
I was surprised by the relative agility with which I let go, but San Francisco and a new job opened a new chapter in my life. Dating was the absolute last thing on my mind, but I seemed to be attracting men at every turn, and this was in a city with a notoriously difficult dating scene! I was suddenly the ‘interesting’ one, having just returned from three years abroad. However, while I felt I had successfully ‘let go’ of my prior relationship, I was not yet ready to ‘move on’. Then I met John.
We had a connection that could not be denied. “John?” my family questioned, “from Oklahoma?” They were confused, because the last eight years were spent with men of foreign origin with names they could not spell. John was funny, smart, and attentive, but thirty days out of my long-term relationship, we were both a little shocked by the intensity of our feelings for each other. On our first date I was up-front about coming off of a 4-year relationship. “So, I am rebound man,” he disappointingly stated. “I don’t think so,” I said sincerely, “I’m in a really good space with all of this.” We quickly sanctioned the relationship exclusive and I even asked my married sister, “How do you know when it’s ‘the one’?” This felt insanely different than anything before.
And then “the” call came – the one that most girls dream of. Giles and I were still friends, but I had not mentioned John – we weren’t that good of friends. This was the, “I realize my mistake” call. The “I want to move to the U.S.”, the “we should get married” call. I suspect he anticipated tears of joy or for me to run into his arms (metaphorically speaking of course, as we were across continents). Instead, there was silence…and a story about a guy named John. I confessed, although it seemed unlikely, that in three short months, I had moved on. “Désolé” I uttered.
He lived up to romantic French ideals and did not give up. He called regularly, pleading his case. He tried to set up meetings in neutral territory so I could be reminded of the love we shared. I declined all offers, but it proved perplexing. Part of me DID want to return to his arms – his arguments were valid – we DID share something remarkable –for over 4 years! The internal strife escalated to regular crying: on the cable car (true – I got to ride the cable car to work!), AT work and every evening. If I took Giles back, John would be hurt. If I stayed with John, Giles would be. I am a very nice person. I don’t like to hurt people. I knew I was going to hurt one of them. I had hurt people before –other boyfriends, other break-ups, but this felt different – it felt like I was between that rock and that hard place.
Of course, with hindsight and telling the story – it’s blaringly obvious. A life lesson was being learned – to make decisions based on my own feelings, despite what others want. It’s a little unnerving to look back and realize how torn I was, choosing what I wanted. Even after long hours of meditation, I was unable to see the writing on my internal wall -the inside of my very own heart. I had muffled my internal voice for so long, that I couldn’t hear it. For someone who proclaimed self-awareness, I now think that that may have been the reason I cried for all of those weeks. In case you are wondering, John was playing the supportive, “I’m here when you need me” role, but I knew it wasn’t fair to cry on his shoulder over my struggle between him and another man.
While out shopping (so cliché-retail therapy), yet another call came – one I had sort of been waiting for. Giles had just arrived to the San Francisco airport. He had flown from Paris and was determined in to win back my heart. I had approximately one hour to cancel my date with John, get home and prepare to be swooped up in a grand romantic feat. This could have been the fairy tale story for our wedding album! He rang my apartment from the call-box outside. I slowly descended the stairs and our eyes met through the pains of the thick front door glass. He smiled and waved with his boyish charm that I always found endearing. His eyes were teasing me – he was riding a wave, euphoric from this amorous drama. And that’s when I heard it. I heard her – the voice that spoke to me from within. She wasn’t crying, or even sad. She was no-nonsense and loving at the same time. Suddenly, I knew this wasn’t the relationship I wanted for the rest of my life. I realized that I had known that all along, but I just couldn’t bear the thought of letting someone get away who promised to love me forever. This voice inside of me told me that I didn’t need Giles or John or anyone else to love me, because what was most important was that I loved me. With years of hindsight I also understand that I wouldn’t have been able to truly love another without recognizing and nurturing love for myself. All of my Buddhist ideals of love and compassion were for naught, if I couldn’t cultivate those things for me.
Twenty-four hours later, after a lot of talking, crying and very little sleep, Giles boarded a return flight to Paris. It was strange – I felt sad and relieved simultaneously. It felt so good to have listened to that voice! My explanation was a bit cryptic, “I can’t explain it, but I just can not get back together with you.” How do you explain the voice that tells you something against all logic – a loving four year relationship, unforgettable experiences, and promises for the future? I guess, that’s the funny and wonderful thing about it – love has nothing to do with logic. Love resides in the heart, logic in the mind. I had been trying to make a decision using the wrong part of my anatomy!
As it turns out, John was rebound man. Shortly after my revelation, our connection fizzled and we amicably parted ways. He was clearly sent into my life to teach me the lesson of my own heart. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the next man I dated, a few months later, eventually became my husband. For the first time, a relationship was born from a space of love that I already held for myself. I no longer felt that “relationships are hard,” and I didn’t have to ask my sister what it felt like to find ‘the one’. I knew how to listen to the one that mattered most. Me.